An odd month for Irish politics

JUNE WAS an odd month in Irish politics.

On the one hand, Sinn Féin made massive gains, in both local and European elections. The mantra of the right–wing press (in particular the Sunday Independent) that Sinn Féin, and by extension republicanism, had no mandate, no real electoral support among the public, has been exposed as the ridiculous conceit that many of us always knew it was. T

he papers may now try to sully Sinn Féin with lurid stories of gangsterism, but the fact is, they are now major players in the political life of Ireland, enjoying significant support on both sides of the border.

While they may never actually become a party of government (at least not as long as it is useful for Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael to maintain the status quo) the fact is that there has been a vote for a republican point of view that cannot be ignored by whoever is in government, whether it be Fianna Fáil (the Republican Party!) or the traditionally conservative Fine Gael. If these parties realise that the only way they can stave off further electoral blows from Sinn Féin is to take a more progressive stance on the north, than this can only be a good thing.

In the space of ten years, republicanism has come in from the cold in southern politics. It is a staggering achievement, both by Sinn Féin, and, it must be said, by the Provisional IRA, whose willingness to stick with political discourse, in the face of staggering obstruction from unionist leaders, has been admirable. One does senses a real air of progress about Irish politics.

Which is why the other significant ballot in June was such a bitter pill.

In June's citizenship referendum, a large part of the population voted in favour of a constitutional change which demeans us all. The Irish electorate chose to have their citizenship rights, and the rights of their fellow men and women, taken from them.

They chose to place conditions and pre–requisites on the very idea of being ‘Irish’. They chose, most sadly of all, to defy the words of the 1916 Proclamation of Independence, which promised to cherish all the children of the nation equally.

In the US (for all its faults) nationhood is taken very seriously — and documents such as the Declaration of Independence and the constitution are held up as sacred texts, not historical curiosities to be sold at auction, or hindrances that can be tinkered with to solve short–term problems.

Constitutional changes require serious discourse, in public, in the courts, in the parliamentary chambers.

Not so in Ireland. This is a country which, rather than formulate a coherent policy on immigration, or make any attempt to educate people on the benefits of a modern, multi–racial, integrated society, would prefer to change its entire constitution.

The more theoretical among us, before the referendum, were prone to argue that the question was not about race, but about the nature of citizenship. Sadly, it would appear, the vast majority of those who voted ‘yes’ apparently did so because they perceived that there was ‘too much immigration’, that the nation was being ‘flooded’with foreigners.

The overwhelming vote for this racist, short–sighted constitutional change made was, quite simply, appalling. A genuine kick in the teeth for anyone who ever dreamed of an egalitarian, just, Ireland, free from tyranny, whether that be foreign occupation or the callous self–interest of the ruling class of the nation.

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This document was last modified by David Granville on 2004-10-12 11:41:22.
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